As chronic smog blankets areas almost every week, the frequent forest fires in Thailand and Laos have had a negative impact on tourism and public health.
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Air Pollution, Forest Fires, Slash-and-Burn Farming
Southeast Asia continues to be plagued by air pollution, which is primarily caused by forest fires as well as slash-and-burn farming. In some places, PM2.5 particulate concentrations are among the highest in the world.
The region's foul air is harming residents' respiratory health and casts a shadow over the tourism industry, which is battling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laos Health in Chronic Smog
On Thursday of last week, a brown haze covered the sky over Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Similar clouds covered neighboring Thailand, which is usually easily viewed across the Mekong River.
In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Phet, an interpreter employed in the capital, mentioned breathing problems. People in Vientiane don face masks to avoid breathing in the smog, not because they are afraid of getting COVID.
Since late January, the pollution in Laos has gotten worse. The nation's air quality index (AQI) rose to 471 on Thursday.
Thailand Chronic Smog November to April
The AQI in Chiang Mai has remained above 300 since March 25, making the pollution in northern Thailand even worse than the condition in Laos. In an effort to lessen traffic and improve the quality of the air, local authorities last week urged businesses and government agencies to permit employees to work from home.
Air pollution typically gets worse and frequently lasts from November through April because the weather is drier. Instead of plowing their sugar cane fields, farmers frequently set them on fire to clear the land. Unhealthy air is a result of a combination of factors, including vehicle exhaust fumes along with this year's forest fires.
CNN reports that the number of "hot spots" where fields were on fire in late March, according to Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency, was 5,572. Myanmar had 10,563 hot spots, compared to 9,652 in Laos, and both nations are on the rise. According to experts, the region's nations must cooperate to solve the issue.
The smog in Thailand is taking a toll on public health. Over 1.7 million individuals report respiratory issues, skin inflammation, or burning eyes between January and mid-March.
Researchers at Kasetsart University in Thailand have calculated the cost of PM2.5 pollution in the nation at approximately 2 trillion baht, or roughly $58.3 billion, which is more than 10% of the nation's gross domestic product, according to data from the World Health Organization. The cost to the public's health and the economy will increase in the absence of effective action.
Now, the area's persistent smog is endangering its vital tourism sector. International tourists frequently visit northern Thailand and Laos. While Luang Prabang in Laos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are popular tourist destinations, the region's polluted air poses a threat to its recovery after successive lockdowns and a slump in tourism, Nikkei Asia reports.
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